Friday, April 19, 2013

Belling the Lambs

Another year of lambing is over for the most part. Now sheep have gone out on the mountain, eating the new spring grass and easing the squeeze on my pocketbook from buying hay all winter. Of course, there is the ever present danger of predators on the mountain. We have an abundace of coyotes, bears, bobcats, ealges, and even mountoin lions, no matter what the DNR says; I have seen one.

 A  few years ago the farmer to the south and the one across the road stopped running sheep because of the coyote problem. DNR has a predator control officer who willingly comes out to diagnosis your problem, "yep, you have a coyote problem." He will put poison collars on the lambs, which does not save that lamb, but it will be the last lamb that coyote will ever kill. However, while a workable solution, you must lose several lambs before getting help, and by then so much of your hard work has gone to feeding your enemy.
We have tried guardian dogs, donkeys, llamas, and now bells. We still have a donkey, who would rather live with the horses. Our last llama has died and we have the alpaca but I am not sure how that will work yet. We are on our forth year using bells and for the dollar, it has worked the best.

I noticed that when we put the poison collars on the lambs, the coyotes quit killing them. Not because they had died, but for some reason they no longer even made the attempt to attack. So I thought that if I put bells on the lambs it might have the same effect. The DNR man told me it might work for a while, until the coyotes realized it was a dinner bell. I tried just the same, with great success. Now instead of losing nearly half the lamb flock, I may lose none, or only one or two.

The first year I bought harness bells and took them to a tack store and had the Amishman help me fix them to elastic collars. It worked marvelously and when the lambs ran across the mountain face behind the house, it sounded like Santa's sleigh was arriving. The next year I was able to reuse some of the collars but some were lost or stretched out too much. I bought the smallest cow  bells from my friendly farm store and easily attached them to the collars by stringing them on the elastic and sewing the elastic closed. Then I moved to cutting the elastic longer and just knotting it shut. With the bigger bells, it sounded like the salvation army had set up shop on the mountain side and were ringing for all they were worth.

This year I needed to replace a few collars and add some more, having a larger lamb crop then in past years. I bought all the bells the friendly farm store had in stock and still was short. I asked my son to bring some home from across the mountain in the valley where he worked. He prompted me to order form the computer. Of course! Today's' age. Unfortunately, no one carried the little bells I had been using, but the larger ones used at sport's events were much cheaper. I thought to give it a try and ordered red ones, believing they would be easier to locate if a lamb lost one.

So all lambs are belled. The larger ones make me think that we have a football game going in the back field. However, since all of the types of bells are now represented, I feel more like sitting on the swing and listening to the bell choir sounding over the mountainside.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Life with Daddy, part 1

In the last little while I have had friends lose their Dads or their Dads have fallen ill, sometimes seriously. As I walk through those times with my friends and try to offer words of wisdom and condolences, I am reminded of my Dad,his great personality, his giving nature,his mischievous heart, and his wisdom. I would like to share some of that with you, to remind you to cherish your
Dad or his memory, and to reminisce for myself.

My Dad passed more than 24 years ago and while the ache is not always present, there are times with I miss him just as acutely. Other times when the pain is not as sharp, but the sorrow is still present, especially as I wonder what he would say about my life, the decisions I have made, and his grandchildren.

Several years ago I was speaking with my sister about my relationships with others growing up, and she made the remark that I had not had many friends because Daddy was my best friend. What a remarkable concept. I loved going with my Dad on his appointments, even if I had to sit in the car with a book until he had finished. Because I was the tail end of the children in my family, sometimes it was as if I was an only child. Dad was older and had more time(and money)to lavish on me. Remarkedly enough, I don’t believe I was spoiled. I remember a girlfriend's mom telling me one day that she never heard a child say thank you so many times. I also remember Dad taking me shopping for horse equipment and asking me, “do you need this?” I tried not to be too greedy, for he was generous. One time it was a rain sheet for the horse. None of my friends had something so extravagant, even the wealthier ones. Finally he asked me if I had it would I use it. Of course, and was glad to have it to cover me and my horse while waiting for my turn to jump at the competitions. It wasn’t long until others had rain sheets as well.

The horse hobby was an expensive one. I got my first horse for Christmas at age 7. Before that I was the horse. My mom says I didn’t know kids were supposed to walk upright until I went to kindergarten. My family rode western and mostly just trail rode, until I convinced Dad to let me go to the riding part of girl scout camp. I wanted to return home when I saw there were no western saddles. Sometimes I wonder if Dad ever regretted forcing me to stay, for I came home from camp two weeks later vowing to learn to ride English and jump. That started the rounds of lessons, more expensive horses, Pony Club and competitions,the whole way up to national level.I remember the first horse my father bought me, he complained how much he had paid for “a gelding, not even registered! More than my sister’s registered mare!”  a few years later he was pleasantly surprised to find my riding had increased the horse’s value, at least until he realized he had to pay more for the next one as I moved up in the levels.

 After I was married and supporting my own horse habit, I began to realize even more how expensive it had been. One day while walking with my Dad through the woods, I thanked him for all he had made possible with my riding, admitting how expensive it had been. His response was this, “Who knows how inexpensive it was?” he was referring to how so many of my peers had gotten into trouble with boys, drugs and alcohol. He said he always knew where I was, what I was doing, and knew my horses were my priority. I dated a guy in high school. One day my Dad asked me if I was still planning to go to college. Of course, I told him. Well, he said, that young man is thinking marriage. I was incredulous. I was only a junior in high school. He was a senior. I had plans for my life. Shortly after that I broke that relationship, and at the end of his senior year he got married to someone else. My Dad’s wisdom and my passion for horses prevented me from making a lasting mistake.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013


Do you ever think of how much time and energy we put into waiting? As children we wait for school to let out, Christmas and birthdays and vacations to come. As adults we wait for things all the time, checks in the mail, vacations, and school to get back in session.

Seems to me that as a farmer, waiting is even more a part of life. After seeds are planted, we wait. We wait for them to sprout, to grow , to produce so we can harvest. We wait for the fruit of our planning when we wait for baby animals to be born. We wait for the weather to be right to make the hay; we wait for the parts to come for the tractor, hoping that the weather will still be right for hay making when they arrive. We wait for snow to melt, for rain to come, for sun to shine. We wait for mud to dry, grass to grow, corn to tassel, females to cycle, gestate and give birth, and for babies to nurse and grow.

We have things to do while we wait. We can prepare birthing areas; we can prepare equipment; we can prepare storage areas, fences, ground for planting, and hundreds of other things. But we can not prepare for waiting. It just is. There is nothing we can do to hurry things along, it is not in our control.

The weather will do what it does. We wait. The plants will grow at their own pace. We wait. The animals will birth when it is time. My grandmother said “the apple will drop when it is ready” when referring to waiting for babies. We just wait.

And sometimes we wait what seems like forever. Like children waiting for Christmas, or the end of a long car trip. Are we there yet? Right now we are waiting for a foal to be born. Almost every morning I get a call from someone. “Any baby yet?” It’s almost as bad as when I was pregnant with our children. Of course, like most everything in my life, they were late. The last little bit of waiting seems longer than the months before; as the end approaches the time seems to slow. This is an unplanned pregnancy of an older pony so there are more risks involved,so family and friends are even more anxious for the outcome. The pony belongs to little 6 year old Levi and he is excited and concerned. 

So what do we do while we wait. All the other chores that still need done. All of the things that we can do to prepare for a new baby: a safe and warm stall, kept clean, a supplement in the grain and more for mom to eat. Handle mom, especially in her udder area so she will not kick at a baby. And watch and wait. And pray.

How can we not pray? With everything that is out of our control, everything we wait for; how can we not know that God is controlling things? Everything we wait for and see come about is evidence of His provision and gift of life. It is a miracle unexplained by science, how a single seed of grain can be put into the ground and grow to produce many. How an egg and sperm can unite and divide into a multifaceted being of many unique cells. So we pray. For a healthy baby, a safe delivery, our own little miracle of life.

We are waiting. For spring, for a foal, for grass, for visitors coming, for the future whatever it may bring.